Adamis: Great Paraklesis to the Mother of God – Radiant Cloud
Thurs, Jan 4
Michaelides: Cherubic Hymn
Music director Alexander Lingas leads Cappella Romana in a program of early and contemporary music from the Greek Orthodox tradition for the 12 Days of Christmas. Medieval Byzantine chant, choral works by Greek-Americans Frank Desby, Tikey Zes, and Peter Michaelides, and by Michael Adamis and Sir John Tavener. Originally performed in the Twelfth Night Festival at Trinity Church Wall Street, New York.
The ecclesiastical feast day celebrating the Nativity of Jesus Christ – which came to be called simply “Christ’s Mass,” or “Christmas” in English – was added to the calendar in the Eastern Church somewhat later than other major feasts. Originally, Christ’s Nativity and Baptism were celebrated on the same day: Epiphany (January 6). Much has been said concerning the origins and influences – whether Pagan, Persian, or Christian – of December 25th becoming the feast day of the Nativity of Christ; suffice it to say that the late Roman Pagan holiday of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun, the ancient Persian celebration of the birth of Mithras – the “Sun of Justice,” – and the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ were each to one extent or another in the mind of the Roman populace during the development of the Christian calendar. This may account for the fact that one of the main hymnological themes for Christmas is that of light in general and the sun specifically: Orthodox hymnography refers to Christ “dawning from a Virgin,” to his Nativity making “the light of knowledge dawn on the world,” calls him the “Dayspring from on high,” or “Dayspring from the east,” and even applies the title “Sun of Justice” for Jesus Christ. Christians seemed to say, “You all worship the sun in the sky or call this false god Mithras the ‘Sun of Justice,’ whereas we worship the true God, the spiritual, noetic ‘Sun of Justice’: Jesus Christ, the Son of God and true giver of light and life.”
This theme permeates the hymnography of Christmas, along with the paradox of God becoming man and of the Virgin giving birth; the humility of the Son of God in his Incarnation; the sanctification of the earth, deification of humanity, and the reconciliation of God and Man in the God-Man, Jesus Christ. The hymns reflect on all these themes, culminating in the universal exultation of creation: “Now Christ is born: therefore glorify!” “Sing your praise to the Lord, all the earth!” “Glory to God in the highest!”
We present our program of a Byzantine Christmas in liturgical order, spending a moment or two in each worship service of the Orthodox Church for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The liturgical journey begins with the service of Great (or “Royal”) Hours, celebrated on Christmas Eve morning or afternoon. Structured around the traditionally monastic rite of the First, Third, Sixth, and Ninth Hours, the Great Hours are now most often celebrated together as a single service. Each Hour begins with Psalm readings, after which the choirs sing a series of three Idiomela (through-composed pieces of hymnography) that reflect on the significance of the holiday. In particular, they focus on the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and on the inherent paradoxes of Christmas: God becoming human, a virgin giving birth, and the King of Kings being born in a cave and laid in a manger. Sung hymnography is followed by declamation of an Old Testament prophecy, chanting of a New Testament Apostolic epistle, and chanting of a Gospel pericope. With this structure, the Hours function like the Orthodox equivalent to a Lessons and Carols service. The climax of the Hours is the Idiomelon “Today born of a virgin is he who held all creation in the hollow of his hand,” a poetic exploration of the paradoxes of Christmas. Our program presents this piece first in Arabic virtuosic improvisation by Dn. John El Massih, and then repeated by the whole ensemble in English, chanting in the “hard chromatic” Plagal Second Mode.
The next stop on our liturgical journey is Great Vespers, celebrated on Christmas Eve. This Vespers service is more joyful in character, being the first liturgical experience of the holiday itself. The hymnography includes a series of Idiomela interpolated into last eight verses of Psalms 140, 141, and 129, which are sung at every Vespers. Our program presents the first and last of these Idiomela: the first in English, composed in the traditional medium-texture sticheraric genre, and the last in Greek, composed in the “old” or slow sticheraric genre by the monks of Vatopaidi Monastery on Mt. Athos. The first half of our program ends with two simpler, more “syllabic” offerings: the first Troparion sung at the prophecy readings at Vespers, sung in English, which tells the story of the Star of Bethlehem and the adoration of the Magi; and the Apolytikion (Dismissal Hymn) of Christmas Day, sung in Arabic, English, and Greek, in which we hear the imagery of Christ as the Sun of Justice.
John Michael Boyer
The second half of our program takes us later into the night on Christmas Eve, beginning with select verses from both the Biblical Psalter and from Old Testament prophecies, sung during the Great Compline service. Sung in Greek, English, and Arabic, every verse of this piece ends with the refrain, “For God is with us,” the translation of “Emmanuel.” Musically, the each verse of the original Greek setting asks a melodic question, to which the refrain gives the perfect melodic answer. Both the Arabic and English adaptations of this piece endeavor to create the same relationship between verse and refrain.
Our first piece from the Matins (“Orthros”) service is a similar collection (“Eklogë”) of Psalm verses, specifically assembled to celebrate Christmas. This time employing the refrain “Alleluia,” this Eklogë was set in the Authentic Fourth Mode “Agia” by my teacher, the great cantor and choirmaster, Lycourgos Angelopoulos. We continue in the Orthros service with the first ode of the first Canon for Christmas Day, in Greek and English, with the “Eirmos” (first stanza) repeated as the “Katavasia” (ending stanza) in the slow version of the same melody.
Orthros leads into the central, eucharistic service for Christmas: the Divine Liturgy, during which we hear one of the earliest examples of Orthodox Christian hymnography, the Kontakion (literally, “scroll”) for Christmas Day, attributed to St. Romanos the Melodist (4th c.). Sung in both Greek and Arabic, the melody of the received tradition bears a striking resemblance to the more ancient melody we find in medieval manuscripts, and is adapted beautifully to Arabic by Fr. Romanos Joubran of Beirut.
John Rassem El Massih
Sung in the same mode and genre as the Katavasia from the first ode of the Canon, the Megalynarion and Eirmos “Magnify, O my soul” and “A strange mystery” are sung in the Divine Liturgy on Christmas Day instead of the usual Hymn to the Mother of God, “Truly it is right to call you blessed.” Introduced by the Megalynarion sung solo, the Eirmos is sung by the whole ensemble in Arabic, both composed by the late Mitri El Murr (20th c.), the most prolific composer of Byzantine Music in Arabic.
The celebration of Christmas does not stop in the church building, of course: our program’s final piece, the Kalophonic Eirmos “Christ is Born,” by musicologist, cantor, composer, and friend of Cappella Romana, Ioannis Arvanitis, belongs to a genre designed to be sung in the banquet hall during the feast. It is a prime example of a contemporary composer writing in a classical style, highlighting the virtuosity of Byzantine Music, as well as its elegance. This is followed by a classical Kratema by Balasios the Priest (17th c.), meditating on the text of the well-known Eirmos while exploring the limits of the First Mode, using nonsensical syllables as a kind of musical instrument. We then come home to the final line of the text of the Eirmos, composed in the melismatic genre: “All you peoples, sing the hymn: for he is glorified!” Our program’s liturgical journey gives us just a taste of the breadth and depth of the Orthodox Christian celebration of the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. It is a journey from the Old Testament to the New, from the fasting and repentance of Advent to the joy and feasting of Christmas, from the darkness of the night to the brightness of the Sun of Justice.
Cappella Romana Media combines passion with scholarship in its exploration of early and contemporary music of the Christian East and West.
A Holiday Record Unlike Any Other Disc 1: Traditional Chants in Greek and Arabic Disc 2: Traditional Chants in English
Featuring classical chants in Greek primarily by Petros Peloponnesios (1730–1778). Adaptations into Arabic primarily by Mitri El Murr (1880–1969) and those into English by John Michael Boyer (b. 1978) closely echo the originals in form, style, and grace.
This debut release by PRÓTO presents traditional chants for the Byzantine celebration of Christmas, including selections from The Royal Hours, Vespers, Matins, and the Divine Liturgy. A deluxe 32-page booklet is included with full texts in Greek, Arabic, and English.
PRÓTO is a collaboration of two protopsaltes (“first cantors”): John Michael Boyer, Protopsaltis of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco; and the Reverend Deacon John Rassem El Massih, Protopsaltis of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Their shared vision is excellence in traditional Byzantine Music as well as the advancement, development, and composition of traditional Byzantine Music in the English language.
With this two-fold offering of traditional Byzantine Music, we seek to give the listener two distinct yet complementary experiences: first, that of being in a traditional Orthodox church somewhere in the Middle East, wherein one choir sings in Greek and the other in Arabic; and second: that of being in a traditional Orthodox church in the United States with highly trained and proficient chanters singing traditional Byzantine Music in straightforward, clear, properly translated English. The first experience is not uncommon today; the second is less common, but we have hope that it will soon become the liturgical standard—hand-in-hand with the continued development of Byzantine Music in Greek and Arabic—for Orthodox Christian parishes in America. Presented in liturgical sequence, each disc jumps from one moment to another, giving a taste of the entire experience of praying the Great (Royal) Hours on Christmas Eve morning, Vesperal Liturgy on Christmas Eve, and Orthros (Matins) and Divine Liturgy on Christmas morning.
Back in the United States…
I have written elsewhere concerning my general approach to the composition of Byzantine Music in English. For this project, I was blessed to have the opportunity to set the excellent translations of my late spiritual father, the Very Reverend Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash) (+ 2016). In rendering his translations, I focused on three areas: first, setting the medium-textured Idiomela (through-composed hymns) in the most traditional way possible; second: rendering the syllabic-textured Troparia in traditional forms that lend themselves to memorization and congregational singing; and third: metering Fr. Ephrem’s translations to fit the melodies of the Greek Eirmoi for the Odes of the Canon. Each of these tasks is comparably challenging, vastly different, and equally important.
In composing the Idiomela, I may choose to follow the general contour of the Greek prototypes, but more often than not I simply allow the text to direct me where to go. Sometimes this yields a result much like the Greek, other times the result is very different. At its heart, however, are the structure and content of the text itself. I departed from the middle texture of Petros’s Doxastarion for the double-choir Doxastikon of the Ninth Hour, opting for a style closer to the slow or “old” sticheraric genre. This showcases a more melismatic style in English, for which I sought to emulate the works of Stephanos Lambadarios, Konstandinos Protopsaltis, and the newly released Doxastikarion of the Athonite monastery of Vatopaidi.
The syllabic Apolytikion and Troparia of the Prophecies in general require a process similar to that of the Idiomela: compose for the text. However, I also make an attempt to create melodies that will linger in the listener’s mind and lend themselves to memorization.
The Canon melodies, being modeled after the Eirmos of each Ode, require a metered translation in order to be sung correctly; otherwise, the Ode loses its strophic melodic pattern, and the whole structure falls away. Having been given free reinby the late Fr. Ephrem to adapt his translations as I see fit, I dedicated significant time and energy to the metering process. Rather than attempting to find the most polysyllabic synonyms possible for each translated word, I rather erred on the side of elaboration, clarification, and paraphrase—while staying within the spirit and content of each hymn text and within the bounds of Orthodox theology—and worked toward a text that is clear and theologically sound, sounds like proper English, and fits the given melody.
In undertaking these three main compositional challenges, I strove to create a series of hymns that not only would complement their Greek originals and Arabic counterparts, but that would stand also on their own merits.
Cappella’s Associate Music Director John Michael Boyer directs exhilarating Byzantine chants for Christmastide in Greek, Arabic, and English. Featuring Lebanon-born guest soloist, Rev’d Deacon John (Rassem) El Massih, and the release of a new CD of the program.
With performances in Seattle, Portland, Salem, and Sacramento.
Presenting the sights, sounds and sensations of the season, The Grotto’s Christmas Festival of Lights is the largest Christmas choral festival in the world. The festival features nearly 160 indoor holiday concerts performed by many of the region’s finest school, church and civic choirs. Offering a family-oriented blend of traditional celebration and serene reflection, the festival theme reflects the special season of hope that Christmas offers to many thousands of families from around the Pacific Northwest.
Five indoor concerts are scheduled each evening in The Grotto’s 600-seat chapel, known for its cathedral quality acoustics. Continuous family entertainment in The Grotto’s plaza area includes outdoor caroling, puppet shows and a live petting zoo.
Holiday foods and beverages are also available, as is seasonal shopping in The Grotto Gift Shop.
Cappella Romana rehearsing “Psalm 84” by Cyrillus Kreek with renowned Finnish choral director Timo Nuoranne.
The Psalms of Estonian composer Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962) take a pride of place in “Arctic Light II.” Kreek and his family converted from the Lutheran church to the Orthodox faith in 1896, when Kreek was just seven years old. His psalm settings follow Orthodox forms, which each include a traditional selection of verses along with refrains familiar to Orthodox faithful. Verses from Psalm 84 (LXX 83) heard in the video above are usually sung for a dedication of a church (“How lovely are your dwelling places”).
Kreek also has a special connection to Cappella Romana’s prior work, in that he was a student of composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory when one of his teachers would have been Maximilian Steinberg, student and son-in-law of Rimsky-Korsakov and composer of the now celebrated Passion Week, of which Cappella Romana gave the world premiere performances and world premiere recording in 2014. Echoes of Steinberg’s compositional voice can be heard in Kreek’s setting of Psalm 137 (LXX 136) “By the waters of Babylon,” which you won’t want to miss on this weekend’s program!
Arctic Light II: Northern Exposure
Renowned Finnish choral director Timo Nuoranne returns to direct glimmering sacred works from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Estonia. With selections from Cappella Romana’s celebrated recording Arctic Light: Finnish Orthodox Music, and a Trisagion in Estonian, Slavonic, and Greek by Erkki-Sven Tüür.
Audiences in the Pacific Northwest know Timo Nuoranne from his Cappella Romana debut with Arctic Light in 2014: a concert program that was almost scrapped, as the program’s original director (Fr. Ivan Moody) was forced to cancel his appearance due to a recent injury that prevented him from flying.
The project was a brilliant success, and Timo’s excellent musicianship, commitment, and rapport with the singers was on full display.
Because of Timo’s life-long commitment to the choral music of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016), we invited him to come back for a project this past January, Rautavaara’s completely peerless All-Night Vigil.
But it was not to be.
Timo had produced the definitive recording of Rautavaara’s All-Night Vigil with the Finnish Radio Chamber Choir, which he directed for many years.
Everything was in place for his second appearance.
But then we hit a major snag. His work visa became mired in a worldwide bureaucratic confusion at the State Department (and its embassies) following the presidential inauguration. After multiple attempts, three airfare rebookings, and personal calls to our government officials, Timo was not able to travel to the United States to direct the Rautavaara concert.
Undaunted, we quickly began to devise a new program that would bring Timo back to the States, directing music that he knows and loves. The result was Arctic Light II: Northern Exposure.
“I am absolutely thrilled that Timo will be leading this music for audiences in the Pacific Northwest,” said Mark Powell, Executive Director of Cappella Romana. “I am half Norwegian myself, and 25 years ago I had the privilege of performing some of this music with the great choral leader, the late Eric Ericson from Sweden.” At that time, Timo was completing his graduate studies with Maestro Ericson in Stockholm. “When Timo first came to work with Cappella Romana we became quick friends over our shared experience with Eric Ericson. I’m so happy that Timo will be back with us again.”
Timo Nuroanne arrives later this week to start rehearsals with Cappella Romana for “Arctic Light II: Northern Exposure.”
Benedict Sheehan, an emerging authority on Russian Orthodox singing and music director at St. Tikhon’s Seminary and Monastery in Pennsylvania, makes his Cappella Romana debut with selections from Tchaikovsky’s groundbreaking All-Night Vigil, Op. 52, and his transcendent Nine Sacred Pieces.
Benedict Sheehan is a composer, conductor, arranger, writer about, and teacher of, music. He is Director of Music at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and Monastery; and, since founding the group in 2015, he has served as Artistic Director of the Chamber Choir of St. Tikhon’s Monastery, a professional vocal ensemble. He is also a frequent clinician and speaker in the field of Orthodox choral singing around the United States.
His musical education includes degrees from Westminster Choir College and Bard College Conservatory of Music, studying conducting under James Bagwell and composition under Kyle Gann. He also has a Master of Divinity from St. Tikhon’s Seminary.
As a conductor, Sheehan has made several recordings with the choirs at St. Tikhon’s, including the debut album of Chamber Choir of St. Tikhon’s Monastery, Till Morn Eternal Breaks: Sacred Choral Music of Benedict Sheehan. In 2014, he made his first conducting appearance at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts with Dawn Upshaw and members of the Bard Graduate Vocal Arts Program. As a writer, Sheehan is a contributor to several online publications, including Orthodox Arts Journal and the Orthodox Christian Network (OCN). His personal blog on the Ancient Faith Ministries platform is called The Music Stand.
A number of his liturgical compositions are currently in print with Musica Russica. His most recent publication, an anthology entitled A Common Book of Church Hymns: Divine Liturgy (2016), is available from St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press.
The Iași Byzantine Music Festival in Romania will present Cappella Romana, the world’s leading proponent of scholarship and performance of Medieval Byzantine Chant, in a concert on September 28, 2017, at 7:00 p.m., in the “Vasile Alecsandri” National Theatre. More information .
Music director Dr. Alexander Lingas will lead a mixed ensemble of men and women in medieval Byzantine chant from Hagia Sophia, music heard for the first time by modern audiences only last autumn, during the ensemble’s residency at Stanford University.
The program will feature medieval Byzantine chant from the nearly forgotten Cathedral Rite of Hagia Sophia, sung from performing editions prepared by Dr. Lingas and the Byzantine musicologists Drs. Ioannis Arvanitis and Spyridon Antonopoulos.
According to the festival website, for five days from September 27 to October 1, 2017, the capital of Byzantine chant will be the city of Iași, where some of the world’s most renowned performers of Byzantine music will perform concerts and religious services.
In addition to Cappella Romana, specializing in medieval Byzantine chant, the festival will also present the Greek Byzantine Choir, Greece; the Choir of the Nea Skiti Monastery, Mount Athos, Greece; the Choir of the Hamatoura Monastery, Lebanon; the “St John Damascene” Choir, Serbia; and multiple choirs and Byzantine chanters from Romania.
“We are thrilled to be invited to this prestigious event,” said Mark Powell, executive director of Cappella Romana. “We are grateful to His Eminence, Teofan, Archbishop of Iași and Metropolitan Bishop of Moldavia and Bukovina, and to Adrian Sîrbu and Ștefan Mihalcea (artistic and executive directors) for their support of Cappella Romana’s tour to the region.”
This is Cappella Romana’s first appearance in Romania.
About Cappella Romana
Its performances “like jeweled light flooding the space” (Los Angeles Times), Cappella Romana is a professional vocal chamber ensemble dedicated to combining passion with scholarship in its exploration of the musical traditions of the Christian East and West, with emphasis on early and contemporary music. Cappella Romana’s name refers to the medieval Greek concept of the Roman oikoumene (inhabited world), which embraced Rome and Western Europe, as well as the Byzantine Empire of Constantinople (“New Rome”) and its Slavic commonwealth.
Music Director and Founder Alexander Lingas and Cappella Romana have established themselves as global leaders in the music of the Christian East and West. A presentation by Cappella Romana is an experience unlike any other vocal music concert. Some programs feature ancient music never before heard by modern audiences; on other occasions new or rediscovered works based on ancient models are brought to audiences from leading contemporary composers.